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Paul Hoffman is an award-winning journalist and biographer. But there are 168 hours in every week, and so he is also a budding restaurateur (at Rucola in Brooklyn) and evangelist[…]

Paul Hoffman, Big Think’s Editorial Chairman, sets the stage for a panel discussion on global epidemics.

Paul Hoffman: We are here now for our second panel, which we’ve called “Swine Flu and the Next Pandemic.”

Back in the Middle Ages, there were probably infectious diseases that hit a village and wiped everybody out. And then there were no humans near enough for the virus to jump to, so it’d just die out.

Now in this day and age, where the earth is much more populated than it was in the Middle Ages, where we have jet travel, where we’ve moved into areas like the rain forest, where there is a lot of species of microbes and things that we come in contact with that we didn’t in the Middle Ages, there is much more likelihood that new diseases will spring up.

We saw this even before jet travel really took off, and that was in 1918 where we had the influenza epidemic, where 50 to a 100 million people was the estimate that died. That’s a third of the population of Europe at the time. And 500 million people were infected, that’s the third of the population of the world; the population was 1.6 billion back in 1918.

The reason we are here today is of course to discuss swine flu, and understand what the latest thinking is about whether it’s a threat to public health, to understand what we learned from it, meaning what medical scientists have learned from it, what our public health system has learned from it. So we will ever be more prepared when we have the next public health crisis.


Recorded on: July 14, 2009.